The trauma of war in Yemen

Five years of civil war have left Yemen devastated on many levels. Tens of thousands have died as a result not only of the violence but also of the ongoing famine. Communities are fractured and families destroyed. Despite the conflict, RNW Media’s Manasati30 platform has continued to inform, entertain and nourish its large online community of young Yemenis. A recent story by colleague Nisma Mansour about the effects of the conflict on her mental health prompted many users to comment that she had expressed exactly how they too are feeling.

War is printed in my DNA

The war in Yemen has marked its fifth year, a half-decade of crisis that has caused untold damage to the country’s infrastructure and displaced millions. You can easily find the numbers. All those numbers at the top of reports or articles talking about the war in Yemen. But all those numbers do not reflect the reality of the situation because behind every number there is trauma and only those who have lived the war can understand it. The mental health situation in Yemen is alarming, but no one wants to talk about it, and everyone keeps saying, “No, we Yemenis, we can bear anything, we are a strong nation.” I’m here to say the exact opposite, we Yemenis have been through enough and we are a nation suffering and traumatised by war.

Memories haunt me
Since the conflict began in 2015, I have, like everyone else, experienced being caught between the fire of the warring parties many times. I have developed feelings of insecurity and instability. How can I ever feel safe or stable when I have had to relocate more than 3 times to find safety? I still remember the horrible days when I was trapped in my house in Khormaksar.* I heard the sounds of missiles so often I learned to differentiate between the sound of a mortar shell and a DShK shell.** The memories of those days still haunt me, and the sound of the missiles whistling overhead has a permanent place in my memory, triggered by any loud noise even when I am in the safest place. I can’t get rid of them, as if they were printed in my DNA, I will always be haunted by the awful feelings of insecurity and pain.

Living with trauma
A World Health Organization (WHO) report indicates that people are 22 per cent more likely to develop mental disorders in conflict zones and many Yemenis have suffered severe trauma directly or indirectly. In another study on the impact of the war on the mental health of Yemeni children, researchers found that of the 902 children surveyed, 712, or 79 per cent of them, suffer from symptoms of  post traumatic stress disorder.  The unfortunate fact is that we as Yemenis are doomed to live with these traumas for many reasons. Firstly, because the number of psychiatrists in Yemen is very limited, (only 40 psychiatrists in the entire country according to a 2016 WHO estimate) and secondly because the majority of aid coming to Yemen is for emergency relief and there is no investment in mental health programmes.

In my DNA
Not long ago, I was one of those who repeated along with other Yemenis that we are strong, and we can handle anything. And then the August 2019 clashes between the government and forces of the southern transitional council came. After these clashes ended, I went through a difficult period where I couldn’t sleep for almost two weeks, it was because all the horrible memories of war had returned all at once. As if they were telling me, ” I am not going anywhere, I am printed in your DNA.”

After the article was published, Nisma (pictured above) reported that she is feeling much better and that expressing her feelings in writing has made her feel stronger. You can read the original article in Arabic here. It attracted many comments from readers such as:

Mohammed Alkowkbanie: I have post-traumatic syndrome due to the scenes of bombing and destruction I’ve witnessed. Also participating in the war left me in a big mental shock

Husam Turbosh: Great story, the numbers always give us an impression of material losses, but the psychological consequences are huge, and unfortunately we are the ones who pay the price for it daily.

Huda Ashraf: She got out all the feelings inside me.

In total Nisma’s story attacted almost 8,000 engagements (likes, shares and comments) on Facebook.

*Khormaksa is a district in the city of Aden

**The DShK is a World War II era heavy machine gun of Russian origin